Daniels Casts Mounting Debt as “Red Menace”

The Indiana governor says the United States government is “morbidly obese.”

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC Friday night, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels characterized the American national debt as a “new red menace,” urging Republicans to rally voters under the banner of fiscal conservatism despite policy differences they might have with independents.

Daniels has been criticized by some conservatives for proposing a “truce” on social issues, including abortion and gay marriage. He didn’t explicitly refer to the issue in his speech last night but did suggest that Republicans reach out to people “who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean,” referring to four popular conservative opinion makers.

As the federal government — “morbidly obese,” according to the governor — is set to borrow forty cents of every dollar it spends this year, it “needs not just behavior modification but bariatric surgery.” Tough reforms are needed to balance the budget. If Republicans are to propose bold spending cuts, “it would help,” said Daniels, if the American people “liked us, just a bit.”

I for one have no interest in standing in the wreckage of our republic saying, “I told you so” or “You should’ve done it my way.

In his own state, Daniels managed to turn a $200 million budget deficit into a $1.3 billion surplus in five years while lowering instead of raising taxes. By cutting red tape and overly complicated tax codes, Daniels made Indiana more attractive to businesses and the state is currently leading in private-sector job growth. He proposed similar solutions for the country.

Citing former treasury secretary William E. Simon, Daniels called for “a tax system that looks like someone designed it on purpose.” The purpose, he said, should be private-sector growth. “So lower and flatter, and completely flat is best.”

Second, “untie Gulliver,” or rid America of the “regulatory rainforest through which our enterprises must hack their way.”

After two years of expanding economic regulation, President Barack Obama’s promise to cut “dumb” rules and red tape was “a wonderment,” according to Daniels, “as though the number one producer of rap music had suddenly expressed alarm about obscenity.” (As his audience hesitatingly chuckled to that, the governor asked: “Need a minute?”)

A moratorium on new regulation is a minimal suggestion. Better yet, move at least temporarily to a self certification regime that lets America build and expand and explore now and settle up later in those few instances where someone colors outside the lines.

Thirdly, Daniels argued for increased energy production in the United States. “Drill and frack and lease and license. Unleash in every way the jobs potential in the enormous energy resources we have been denying ourselves.”

While the president maintains that “drilling alone cannot come close to meeting [America’s] long-term energy needs,” there are vast reserves of oil and natural gas waiting to be exploited underneath the Atlantic coastline, beneath the northern coast of Alaska, and on land, in Colorado and Wyoming. Combined, these regions hold over two hundred billion barrels of oil and 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that are recoverable with today’s technology. If fully developed, it would be enough to free the country from the import of foreign oil for almost fifty years.

Daniels preempted criticism that deep spending cuts would be “painful” to ordinary Americans, wondering, “If government spending prevents pain, why are we suffering so much of it? If you want to experience real pain,” he added, “just stay on the track we are on.” At the same time he warned that skepticism of “big government” should not lead one to contempt all government.

After all, it is a new government we hope to form, a government we will ask our fellow citizens to trust to make huge changes.

If such huge changes are to come about, Republicans cannot lose faith in the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, said Daniels, in conclusion to a speech that certainly sounded presidential.

All great enterprises have a pearl of faith at their core, and this must be ours: that Americans are still a people born to liberty. That they retain the capacity for self-government. That, addressed as freeborn, autonomous men and women of God given dignity, they will rise yet again to drive back a mortal enemy.

The Indiana governor hasn’t committed himself to a White House run yet but told Politico this week that he would have the cash and the support to win his party’s nomination. “If I were to decide to do this, we would have an unbelievable letterhead,” he predicted.

Daniels suggested that three things could keep him from running — his wife’s concerns, the calculation that his party or the country aren’t prepared for deep spending cuts or the emergence of another capable candidate.